Monday, April 9, 2012

Tent Stitch - Part 1

The tent stitch is the most basic needlepoint stitch.  There are three ways to execute the tent stitch: the Half Cross Stitch method; the Continental Stitch method; and the Basketweave Stitch method.  This description sometimes confuses people, but there is only one tent stitch.  The method used to stitch the tent stitch differs and it matters which method you use.
The tent stitch is probably the most difficult stitch to execute well.  The American Needlepoint Guild recognizes this difficulty by giving a special award to the best needlepoint piece stitched entirely in tent stitch that is entered into their national exhibit each year.  A lot of people use the tent stitch in their needlework, few stitch it really well.  Over the next couple of blogs I will give you hints and tips to stitch the tent stitch better.
So let’s look at the three methods used to stitch the tent stitch.
The Half Cross Stitch method is the the WORST way to stitch the tent stitch.  It leaves very little thread on the back of the canvas.  For needlepointers stitching in tent stitch, the more thread on the back of the canvas the better - that’s because many pieces stitched in tent stitch are used as furniture.  You need the needlepoint to be durable, and that means more thread on the back.  Here is the stitch diagram for the Half Cross Stitch, it may be stitched horizontally as shown, or vertically:

The Continental Stitch is another way to stitch the tent stitch, and does leave more thread on the back of the canvas.  The problem with the Continental Stitch is that it pulls the canvas on the diagonal, creating a large amount of distortion of the canvas, even when stitched with a frame.  If the piece is too badly distorted, then you will not be able to block it straight.  Even if you are capable of blocking it straight, it has a strong tendency to lose the blocking over time and going back to the distorted shape.  Here is the stitch diagram for the Continental Stitch, it may be stitched horizontally as shown, or vertically:

The third method of stitching the tent stitch is the Basketweave Stitch, and is the preferred way to stitch the tent stitch.  This method reduces canvas distortion by changing the pull on the canvas for each diagonal row, one row will create a vertical pull while the next row will create a horizontal pull .  Blocking is much easier with this method.  There is a firm and substantial backing to this stitch for greater durability.  There are two stitch diagrams for the Basketweave stitch because it depends on whether the first canvas thread that is stitched over is a vertical thread of a horizontal thread.  All Basketweave Stitching is done on the diagonal.


Here is what I mean by the thread of the canvas being vertical or horizontal:

The circle with the 1 above it shows a vertical canvas thread.  If you stitch over the canvas intersection in circle 1, then the next stitch is DOWN one intersection on the diagonal, the arrow shows the direction of the stitching.  The circle with the 2 above it shows a horizontal canvas thread.  If you stitch over the canvas intersection in circle 2, then the next stitch is UP one intersection on the diagonal, the arrow shows the direction of the stitching.  There are several ways to remember which direction your next stitch should be, the one I use is slide DOWN the poles (the vertical canvas threads) and climb UP the stairs (the horizontal canvas threads.)

Let’s look at all three stitches stitched on 18 count canvas with 4 strands of Splendor silk.  From left to right: Basketweave, Continental, Half Cross.

Basketweave Continental      Half Cross

And the backside of the canvas looks like:

The Half Cross Stitch method

Here are a few things to notice:
a.  There is very little thread on back, and I don’t know how to bury that ending thread under the thread on the back.  
b.  At the end of the rows the stitches are slightly distorted because of how the thread moves on the back of the canvas.

The Continental Stitch method - 

a.  The stitches are not uniform and there is a little canvas peeking through.
b. The stitches are more uniform on front, though you can tell which type of stitch it is, it can not be confused with the Basketweave Stitch.
c. The backside of the canvas shows the slant of the thread that will cause the canvas to distort. 

The Basketweave stitch method - 

a.  There is a uniform look to the stitches on the front of the canvas.
b.  The thread on the back has the look of a Basketweave stitched when stitching with a frame.  If you use the sewing method, the vertical threads will be the same width as the horizontal threads and look truly like a basketweave.  I am not suggesting anyone use the sewing method!

One last item for this blog: burying your ending threads.  Many people bury their threads on the diagonal.  Here is an example of this with the Basketweave Stitch:

I increased the size of this image sample, hoping that you would see the diagonal ridge that formed when I buried the threads on the diagonal.  You can see it clearly in person, but not well here with the image.  Here is the same sample with the area pointed out:

The oval shows the area where the ridge appears and the arrows point at stitches on the front of the canvas that were moved (distorted) by burying the threads into the stitches on the back.
So, NEVER bury any threads on the diagonal when you stitch with the Basketweave Stitch.  Only bury threads vertically and horizontally.  One more thing, don’t bury threads deep down into the stitches, for any stitch, as this will cause the threads on the front to move and look bad.
One point about blocking: blocking a tent stitch piece that is stitched in wool that has distorted the canvas will straighten the canvas somewhat - miracles rarely happen if the distortion is severe.  If you stitch with silk, there is no way to get rid of the distortion.  Wool has elasticity in it and will move, allowing you to straighten distortions in the canvas, silk will not move if you try to block a distorted piece.
The next blog will have more tips for stitching tent stitch with the Basketweave Stitch method.


  1. i'm glad you are going to discuss basketweave more as i get totally lost trying to stitch it. many of the counted charts i do might only have two rows of tent stitch so am not sure if it is possible to do basketweave.


  2. I've read a lot about tent stitch, and this post is absolutely excellent! You really are writing stupendous posts.
    I'm working on a piece - in half cross, drat it. Oh well. I'm also using too high a count linen for the (Renaissance Crewel) wool, so my thread is 'being squeezed'. A post on testing/examing samples of tent stitch on various counts of linen/canvas would be fascinating, if you are interested. Mine was a stupid mistake - I just didn't think about the issue and plucked some linen, that is normally used for Elizabethan stitching, from my stash. I'm not re-starting! It doesn't look too bad, and I certainly won't make these mistakes again! :-)

  3. Have you got the new "Elizabethan Stitches" by Jaqui Carey? There is a significant section devoted to tent stitch...